Hearing with San Juan Mayor Cancelled, Puerto Rico Confirms 911 Post-Maria Cremations
The House Committee on Homeland Security abruptly cancelled Wednesday's hearing with FEMA Administrator Brock Long on the federal government's response and recovery efforts for recent disasters, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the wildfires in the West.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has been highly critical President Trump and FEMA's relief efforts in Puerto Rico, arrived in Washington, DC yesterday after being invited to testify at the hearing. In a video posted to social media, she raised questions about the sudden cancellation.
"I'm just wondering, what are they afraid of?" Cruz asked.
The hearing had been canceled twice before due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. No reason was given for the latest cancellation and a rescheduled date has not been announced.
But CBS News reporter David Begnaud, who has been extensively covering the crisis in Puerto Rico, wrote: "A source says the suspicion is some of the committee members didn't want a confrontation between Long and the Mayor."
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, released a statement criticizing the committee for attempting to "silence" the mayor and shield the Trump administration from "another bad news story."
"I invited the Mayor of San Juan to testify before our Committee's hearing on FEMA's preparedness and response capabilities so our entire Committee could receive an accurate picture of what is happening in Puerto Rico from someone who has been on the ground since day one," Thompson said.
"It is inexcusable that the Republicans have delayed this hearing for the third time with no rational reason in a blatant attempt to silence the Mayor and shield the Trump Administration from another bad news story. It is clear that House Republicans and the Administration fear the Mayor and her telling her story." he continued.
"Now the Committee on Homeland Security—the authorizing committee of DHS—won't be hearing from the Mayor or FEMA Administrator Long even though they will both be on Capitol Hill this week."
Many questions are being raised about the federal government's relief response to the storm-wrecked U.S. territory. As of Tuesday, less than 30 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity has been restored.
The Homeland Security committee was expected to grill Long and other officials at the hearing over several issues including Whitefish Energy Holdings' controversial, and recently cancelled, $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid.
"I visited Puerto Rico earlier this month and it is painfully clear that the real story of the plight of our fellow Americans in a humanitarian crisis is not being told," Thompson continued in his statement. "The federal response to hurricanes hitting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is inadequate in almost every respect and the situation is still dire. The American people deserve to know what went wrong during this Administration's first hurricane season so we can make sure none of our fellow Americans ever have to go through this again."
Meanwhile, Buzzfeed News reported Friday that the Puerto Rican government has allowed 911 bodies to be cremated since Hurricane Maria made landfall but "not one of them were physically examined by a government medical examiner to determine if it should be included in the official death toll."
The cremations were carried out between Sept. 20 and Oct. 18. and the people are listed as having died from natural causes.
But directors of the funeral homes and crematoriums told Buzzfeed they were not given official guidance on what was considered a hurricane-related death. This confusion could mean that the official death count might not include all the deaths that resulted from the Category 4 storm.
Puerto Rican officials stand by the official hurricane death toll of 51.